The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, November 04, 2005

Gilbert, Blubaugh differ on hot issues; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

The campaign has been sedate, even friendly by state standards.

But the race to be the next delegate from the 15th District is one of significant contrasts.

With incumbent Del. Allen Louderback, R-Luray, not seeking a third term, Democrat Jim Blubaugh, 58, of Rappahannock County, and Republican Todd Gilbert, 35, of Shenandoah County, are facing off in the area’s only contested race for the lower house this year.

Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal, Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, and Del. Joe May, R-Leesburg, are all unopposed in their bids for re-election.

Blubaugh is a retired federal worker who has done stints at the U.S. Department of Commerce, State Department and the CIA.

Gilbert was an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Shenandoah County until last month, when he took a part-time job with the Warren County prosecutor’s office to devote more time to the campaign.

The candidates sat down for separate interviews with The Northern Virginia Daily to talk about their views.

Blubaugh and Gilbert are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the 2004 state budget agreement.

“I think [the agreement] was a very good thing,” Blubaugh said of the deal, which raised $1.6 billion in new taxes, while reducing the food tax and some income taxes.

It is true that the state is now running a surplus, but “hindsight is wonderful,” he said. “Maybe had we known everything that was going to happen in the economy, we would have voted a little bit differently.”

At the time, though, it wasn’t clear that the state’s economy would produce the money needed to cover a massive budget shortfall, Blubaugh said, and Virginia’s bond rating was in trouble.

“We had deputies who were on food stamps. That’s something we should be ashamed of,” he said. “I think it did a lot of things that were important and necessary.”

Gilbert said he disagrees wholeheartedly.

“There’s always that knee-jerk reaction to dig into the taxpayers’ pockets every time the going gets tough,” he said. Instead of looking at evidence that the economy was growing, the General Assembly decided to take more money.

The surplus bears out his argument, Gilbert said.

“Everything that was put in that budget could have been paid for and then some,” he said. “There is ample tax money coming into the system.”

The projected $2 billion or more surplus now piling up in state coffers is a good thing, but it doesn’t mean that taxes were too high, Blubaugh argues.

“It means that the budget that was proposed last year had a whole lot of things still missing from it,” he said. “Things were cut out that we normally finance in good years,” such as the fund that helps finance school construction.

State government is “mired in its own self-importance,” Gilbert said. The state should set a few priorities and do them well, rather than “trying to be all things to all people.”

Another place where the two men differ significantly is on the Dillon Rule, the legal precept that local governments have only the power given them expressly by the General Assembly.

The concept is a major point of conflict between state and local officials.

Blubaugh said he supports rolling back the Dillon Rule in some matters of taxation and land use.

The principle that all power is vested in the state legislature and local government can only exercise the power given them by the General Assembly “flies in the face of most other U.S. law,” Blubaugh said.

Town councils and boards of supervisors, not the Senate and House of Delegates, know what’s best for locals, he said.

“Counties have a vested interest and know … what is best for their county in terms of what kind of zoning restrictions they should have, what kind of land-use plan” they should have, Blubaugh said.

Counties should have the ability to levy a real estate transfer tax and charge impact fees to keep up with the demand for services such as schools, “so it’s not always upon the property owner to pay for an increase in services,” he said.

But there’s a danger in handing out power, Gilbert said. It can be abused.

“There may be areas where local governments need more flexibility,” he said. “That’s a two-edged sword.”

“One of the reasons we have the Dillon rule observed in Virginia is so that localities do not have unfettered power that can go unchecked by the state government,” he said.

“That same government that has that same kind of power can abuse it,” Gilbert said. Instead of giving local governments getting more power, they should use the power they have more effectively.

“They just need to act responsibly within the framework [of zoning laws] that’s already been built for them,” he said.

There are areas of agreement between the two, though.

Both men say they support the death penalty, and agree that it should be used judiciously and cautiously.

But they differ as to the best way to prevent crime in larger, philosophical terms.

Virginia may be selling itself short by devoting funds to punishment instead of things like education, according to Blubaugh.

A large majority of people in the commonwealth’s prisons are functionally illiterate, he said. That’s no coincidence.

Government “has to be looking at the causal factors, which 10 to 15 years before the crimes, is the schools,” he said.

Legislators should also take a hard look at the “three strikes” law, which triggers a life term for a third violent felony conviction, according to Blubaugh.

“I’m not saying that these aren’t crimes and people shouldn’t be punished,” he said. “[But] I am saying that we should look at it from a little different point of view. What’s the smartest thing to do? These are individuals who will never contribute taxes, who will always be on the taxpayer dole, so to speak.”

“We could be putting the money into other areas, reducing the crime rate, bringing more people on board with jobs, making the state more solvent, making the state a safer place to be,” he said.

The root of crime is even more fundamental than education, said Gilbert. It’s broken homes.

“Prisons are full of people from broken homes. Certainly education is part of the recipe for success, but even educational success starts at home,” he said.

“Most of the folks that come through [the criminal justice] system didn’t start off bad,” he said. “They just didn’t have a fair shake.”

“If our society was more focused on families … as the fundamental institution of society, rather than government being the fundamental institution in society, we’d be a lot healthier as a society, that crime would dissipate,” he said.

Election Day is Tuesday.